Thelonious Monk's Newly Discovered 'Palo Alto' Is a Strange and Wonderful Late-Career Document

BY Roz MilnerPublished Sep 18, 2020

A recently discovered 1968 recording of Thelonious Monk's quartet in concert, Palo Alto shines a light on his late career and showcases his quartet in full flight.

Set up by a high school student and played in a school's auditorium, this gig must've been an interesting experience for Monk. He certainly takes a few risks: on his solo in "Well You Needn't," Monk plays with pauses, bouncing between phrases and hesitating just long enough you'd think he's finished. Meanwhile, on "Blue Monk," he speeds up the intro, his playing emphasizing his stride piano influences.

The band stretch out on both "Well You Needn't" and "Blue Monk," each going for over ten minutes, and showing how hot Monk's road-tested group (Charlie Rouse on sax, Larry Gales on bass and Ben Riley on drums) could get. But the real joy of Palo Alto is Monk's unaccompanied "Don't Blame Me," where, for six minutes, his playing twists and turns, building into a slow, emotional climax.

For a 50-plus-year-old amateur recording, the fidelity is wonderful. It sounds like you're there — you can even hear Monk's stool squeak. It's a great document from late in his career (he'd retire from playing just three years later), but it's also a highly enjoyable listen to boot. Recommended.

Latest Coverage